Saturday, November 14, 2015

Saturday's Series Spotlight: The Guy by Skylar M Cates

The Guy from Glamour #1
Anthony Carrino loves his big, gregarious Italian-American family, even if his sisters are interfering, and his dad, the local sheriff, knows everything going on in town. He’s happy as a middle school guidance counselor. Despite helping kids and their parents fix their problems, Anthony can’t manage to get his own love life right. If only everyone would stop calling him the “nice” guy.

Dean Pierce doesn’t do relationships. A tough-minded military man, he is dedicated to his job as a Night Stalker, flying Chinook helicopters and not speaking much to anybody. He certainly doesn’t want to deal with a mess of emotions. But when tragedy strikes, Dean finds his hands full with his troubled niece, her irresistible guidance counselor, and a meddlesome family, which includes a rather large puppy.

This has been on my Kindle for over a year but I just got round to reading it now.  Not sure why it kept getting overlooked because it is an amazing read.  Dean is the epitome of a career serviceman when he's thrown a curveball with the death of his sister and orphaned niece.  Love the way he is immediately sucked into the Carrino family not to mention his connection to Anthony.  The way the author tackled his fear of what he could possibly have to offer his 13 year old niece is believable and heartwarming.


The Only Guy #2
Aaron Weiss knows how to escape. Years ago, he ran from a romantic disappointment and impulsively joined the Army. Now, he’s forced to take a medical discharge and readjusting to life at home proves a challenge.

Jesse Ross knows how to hide. He realizes he’s an oddball, and that he’s an outsider within his own family. He also knows his secret love since childhood, Aaron, only wants his good-looking, favored older brother. Yet Jesse could never completely abandon his intense feelings for Aaron. Over the years, Jesse was a faithful pen pal to him. Still, he's shocked to his core to find Aaron on his doorstep.

As long-buried secrets and past hurts take center stage, the two are overwhelmingly drawn to each other. But it’s their future that may force them to risk everything.

Watching Aaron and Jesse reconnect is beautiful, heartbreaking at times but always believable. When Aaron is forced to retire due to a heart condition I thought he would flounder but he finds a new line of work due to his stepmother and a new future in the form of a childhood friend he never expected to see as anyone other than the little boy he was in his memories.  For those wondering about Dean and Anthony's future, we get to see their next step as well.


The Last Guy Breathing #3
Henry Clueley doesn’t want to be in Glamour, not after moving far away to overcome a difficult, if privileged, childhood. He’s no longer that pudgy kid desperate to escape his hometown, but it still holds painful memories. When his recently widowed mother needs him, however, “dependable Henry” does the right thing—even if it means leaving the IRS to take a boring corporate position. Things don't stay boring for long. Soon Henry helps the local sheriff’s department unravel a crime. Posing as half of a fake couple seems like a fun idea... until Henry learns he already knows the deputy playing his other half.

Deputy Locke may be new to the Glamour Sheriff’s Department, but he’s fought his way up in the world and is determined to make a good impression. He keeps his private life quiet, even from his beloved younger brother. Locke knows better than most the need to protect what’s his.

Henry resents the arrogant, gorgeous cop, and Locke thinks Henry is sheltered and spoiled. Their secret and steamy encounter only adds to the animosity. As they join forces, Henry thinks a relationship with Locke would be catastrophic, but the white-hot passion between them makes it hard to resist.

Not really an enemies to lovers tale but to say Henry and Locke don't exactly see eye to eye is an understatement.  I don't think these boys burrowed their way into my heart as deeply as either Dean & Anthony or Aaron & Jesse but I still couldn't shut my Kindle off till I reached the last page.  As with books 1 and 2, it isn't just about the love interests, family is a huge part of how the author brings the love story to fruition.

A Guy's Thanksgiving #3.5
Two proposals. One giant dog. Reunited lovers.

Welcome to Glamour, Arizona, where the holidays are never dull. Glamour may be a small town, but the surprises keep coming.

Everybody’s looking forward to Thanksgiving. Only Mac Sharma is a reluctant guest. Even as Anthony and Dean make him feel welcome at the Carrino table, Mac feels awkward among the close-knit group of friends. Life gets even more complicated when Conor Harvey shows up in town.

Mac has been in love with Conor since his university days. Too bad Conor broke his heart—right before he fled to his hometown in Ireland without explanation. Conor's still a wild artist and as sexy as Mac remembers. But they’re no longer kids. This Thanksgiving, Mac must decide if he can give Conor a second chance.

First off I just want to say I loved that the author centered this holiday tale around Thanksgiving instead of Christmas.  Don't get me wrong I love Christmas tales but it's refreshing to see Turkey Day get a story.  I loved seeing everyone from the first 3 books come together and in doing so we get to see how each couple is doing and a peek at their future.  I enjoyed getting a closer look at Max but I do wish his and Conor's story would have been a little longer and for that reason alone I knocked off 1/2 a bookmark but the story as a whole is engaging, loving, and plain fun.


The Guy from Glamour #1
Chapter One
“PERSONAL MATTER, Captain Pierce. The colonel said to call him right away.”

“Personal matter?” Dean Pierce paused in the middle of lifting a giant weight over his head. He had no personal matters, and he never got phone calls. Ever. Scowling, he racked his brain to come up with a plausible explanation and found none.

“Yes, sir,” the sergeant said, backing away a few steps.

The sergeant had found Dean in the PE tent doing some cross-training exercises that mostly consisted of jumping up and down. It sucked that he couldn’t exercise outside, but despite the Night Stalkers’ secured location, they never knew where a sniper might be hiding. The exercise room was small, with little equipment, and, like most of the men, Dean usually did sets of pushups or jumping jacks there, but today he’d picked up the only available set of twenty-pound dumbbells and had been cranking out a few sets of overhead extensions. He wiped some sweat on the side of his T-shirt as perspiration dripped down his chest to his lower abdomen. Unlike most of the other guys, Dean preferred to skip the usual card games to pass the time, and he liked to push his body to its limits.

Needing to find out what this was all about, Dean ignored the sergeant, put the PE area back into perfect order, and then stomped over to command to take his phone call. He was in a rotten mood already. It had been a long time since he’d seen any action.

Dean really needed to fly, but they’d been holed up all week on a remote mountainside in Afghanistan, awaiting orders for an assault mission. It was where the Night Stalkers spent most of their time between jobs—in one kind of shithole or another—and Dean itched to get on a real assignment already. Major Thompson was busy with two other soldiers when Dean entered the command tent, but he waved Dean over to the SATCOM phone. It looked like a big cell phone, but it was hooked up to a satellite, and it was only used in emergencies. Dean hesitated for only a split second and then took the call.

Five minutes later, managing only a curt “Yes, sir,” Dean hung up and sat there, his mouth drawn tight.

Major Thompson glanced at him. “Bad news?”

“Yes, sir. My sister’s dead,” Dean said in a clipped, hard voice, his face impassive.

He stood up and waited for the grief to come with saying the words out loud, but all he’d felt was pissed off. He couldn’t begin to tap into his feelings about Jenna. All Dean could focus on was that he had to leave his unit, head to America, and desert his men. But there was no question that he’d need to go on at least a two-week emergency leave and figure out what to do. After hearing from the Red Cross about his sister, Colonel Matthews immediately called him. He had pretty much ordered him to go, and when Dean had an order he followed it, plain and simple. He was needed in the States. His sister was gone, and she’d left behind a kid.

“Jesus! I’m sorry to hear that, Pierce.”

Dean didn’t answer. His stomach had twisted into knots.

OVER THE next few hours, in some kind of trance, Dean packed his things and made flight arrangements. Or, more accurately, Lieutenant Aaron Weiss, his bunkmate and only friend, had packed for him. Dean had mostly sat there. Weiss was good at taking care of things like that. He was often in charge of getting the choppers ready, and a pretty good pilot besides.

“Do you want to talk?” Weiss asked.

A muscle ticked in Dean’s jaw.

“Right. Of course you don’t,” Weiss answered for him. “Stupid question. Do me a favor, Pierce? When you’re around civilians, try to use actual words. Grunting doesn’t work so well out there. Try to communicate.”

“I’m the flight lead. I tell the men what to do all the time. I communicate.”

“I meant on the actual ground.” Weiss’s eyes lit with humor. He was small and wiry, and Dean towered over him, but Weiss gave as good as he got.

Dean spoke haltingly, “This is a mistake. I’m not some fucking babysitter. I don’t even know why I’m going.”

“But you’re going anyway. Aren’t you?”

Dean said nothing.

Weiss came over and sat beside him. “Try to have a little faith.”

“Not me. I leave all that to the religious types like you.” Although, truth be told, Dean would have liked God on his side, especially in some hot landing zone where he flew in a Little Bird on a direct action mission and the enemy was pounding them.

Or right now.

“Better a rabbi than a redneck.” Weiss gave a sly grin. He was aware of the nickname—the Rabbi—that the other Stalkers had given him, partly because Weiss was the only Jewish guy in the group and partly because he wore his convictions like a compass and never let the teasing bother him. Dean didn’t have a nickname, and he was painfully aware that the other Stalkers didn’t feel comfortable enough to give him one. “And before you tell me how Arizona is cowboys and not rednecks, let me add that there really is only one place to be in America for true civilization, and it has bagels and Broadway and—you’d better stop me before I burst into a Billy Joel song. God, I miss New York. Don’t you miss your home too? Even a little?”

“Got nothing to miss.”

“Oh. Shit, Pierce, that’s depressing. If it makes you feel any better, you’re too good a pilot for the army not to drag you back here. You might even be back in time for the next assignment.”

“I’ll be back before that.” Dean gave Weiss a sharp look. “Count on it.” He grabbed his bag, slapped Weiss’s back in farewell, and left the tent.

Once he got outside, though, Dean slowed down his pace. He closed his eyes a moment, listening to the sound of choppers as they lifted up into the sky, the helo maneuvering right above him. What the hell would he do without that sound every day?

ONE JEEP ride and two long flights later, Dean was finally headed Stateside. The plane took off, roaring to life, a thousand-pounds-plus of bird flying into the air with a bit of lift. Dean always loved takeoff, but not this time. He couldn’t believe he was going to be in Phoenix soon, an area he’d vowed never to return to. Despite his efforts to move forward, always forward, the place had lingered inside of him. Dean stared out his window. Phoenix like the mythical creature, rising out of the ash. That was his life all right. Returning him to something he’d long ago buried.

The plane hit a patch of rough air, and the woman near him gripped her armrest. It was only turbulence, but Dean could see that a logical explanation might not make any difference to her. He would have smiled at her reassuringly, but her eyes were squeezed closed. A more experienced pilot would have avoided the difficult air. These airline types depended on their computers too much anyhow. Chopper pilots know how to really fly. On a clear day, maybe at dawn, there was nothing better than a sturdy Chinook flaring up, ready to go, its massive spinning rotors zooming through the clouds.

Dean managed a few hours of sleep on the plane but still didn’t feel rested when they landed with a jolt. The line moved slowly, and he was nearly the last one off the plane. At the airport shop, he grabbed a bite to eat, including a pack of licorice and some M&M’s. There were no ATMs where the Stalkers had been in Afghanistan, and it felt odd to use one and to actually buy junk food. Dean bought a book too, a thriller, another luxury, since most of the guys just passed around the few books they had. Then Dean checked the address where his niece was staying. He’d left so quickly that he knew none of the details beyond it. He felt stupid about that now, and it didn’t help his mood any to walk a freaking mile to the tiny shuttle that took him to the car rental agency.

The man in the Hertz office was middle-aged and had stringy brown hair. He pushed a bunch of forms at Dean, explaining that while he understood Dean’s need for legroom—and with that he’d glanced up at Dean’s large frame—he still couldn’t help him. All he had left were smaller cars. He took a sip of his dark coffee and shrugged. “Take it or leave it.”

Dean would’ve liked to have left it, instead of shelling out his hard-earned money to drive some damn compact, foreign piece of junk, but since a dozen other people were waiting for cars, he took it. As he passed the others, he was torn between feeling lucky to escape and imagining he was going to a worse place. Although he could have tried another car rental agency in the airport, Dean was too tired from the long flight to want to wait in another huge line with no guarantee of a better car. Besides, he needed to get all this over with as soon as possible.

Weiss was wrong. Dean already regretted being there. What could he do to help some kid? Nobody had ever helped him, and he’d done all right. Dean ducked his head, still nearly banging it on the roof of the car, and left the airport. Even with his foot sitting heavily on the pedal, the car barely reached seventy on the highway. Junk. He should have held out for something with some guts. Giving up on the useless car going any faster, Dean chewed some candy, put on some soft rock, and tried to relax. The GPS told him in firm, female tones where to go, and he followed the directions out of Phoenix and onto the highway. Even though he’d grown up in the city, Dean had never really made it to too many places outside of it. He hadn’t seen anything, really, until he’d left for the army, and he’d never even heard of Glamour, the town where his niece was staying, but according to the GPS, it was only a forty-five-minute drive.

As he drove, his shoulder felt a bit stiff, and he rubbed it. For a moment, he contemplated stopping to pick up some ibuprofen, but Dean hated taking any drugs. He’d exercise it later. That usually did the trick. He worried about what his regiment was doing. They weren’t supposed to mobilize for at least ten days, but in Afghanistan, anything could change at any time. Night Stalkers flew. Determined or hungry or terrified, they flew. Dean didn’t want to know if they’d suddenly left on a job without him. Even if they hadn’t gone out yet, they were doing important training. The Night Stalkers were in the middle of testing low-flying capabilities with extra men—each equipped with over seventy pounds of gear—and delivering them safely into the enemy’s backyard. For the Rangers and SEALs depending on the Night Stalkers to transport or rescue them, this training was crucial, and Dean was missing it.

He glanced out his window at the scenery as he turned off the highway. Welcome to Glamour, Arizona! Dean looked around. The sign lied. There didn’t seem to be anything glamorous about Glamour. It was a tiny, dusty-looking town with only a few sparse cacti dotting the streets. It looked more like a place for gunslingers than beauty.

Dean eyed Main Street. There weren’t any fast-food restaurants or discount stores in sight, he’d give it that much, although there had been plenty of them on the road outside the town. Maybe it had a certain charm, Dean thought grudgingly as he went past the post office and Wells Fargo Bank. Most of the other buildings were cutesy little shops of some kind or another, none of them looking as if they were part of any larger chains.

He sped down the main street in less than five minutes. The GPS guided him right past the town and into a more rural area. The houses here were well kept at least, and there was even some life. Dean saw a few kids playing and two women outside watching them. He drove past a slightly curved road and onto the street where his niece was staying. He could see mountains in the distance now, and even with the air conditioner on full blast, he could feel the hot whip of the desert sun.

Turning his car into a small, circular driveway, Dean parked and then sat for a long moment. He was used to pressure. Just last month, he’d been on a recon mission, trying to make it out of the enemy terrain with all his guys intact. Flying the birds with the barest amount of infrared light, bullets zinging off his blades—that was rough. That was pressure. So why was he shaking in his combat boots at the thought of facing his thirteen-year-old niece? Why was he was quaking like a damn baby?

With a shaky breath, he forced himself to get out of the car.

The house was painted a cheery yellow. There were a number of desert plants in the front and a nice-sized porch. Dean stretched, pulling his left arm over his head, and then his right one. He walked toward the front door.

“Crap! Oh damn.” There was a sudden thump. Curious, Dean turned toward the noise and headed to the back of the house. It was a fairly big yard with some well-loved lawn furniture circling a fire pit filled with lava rocks. There was also a lush garden blooming with desert marigolds, sunflowers, and aloe plants. A tiny grotto stood in the center of the garden with a pretty statue of the Blessed Mother there. Dean wasn’t religious at all, but there was something inviting about all the bursts of colorful flowers surrounding the statue. What really drew his attention, however, was the man standing on his tiptoes while facing a shed near the left of the garden, trying to put a cardboard box on an extremely high shelf. The shelf was already jam-packed, and Dean watched him shoving at the box to try to make it fit.

“Crap,” the man cried again as the box started to tumble down at him. Dean moved quickly and grabbed the guy with one hand, catching the wayward box with his other. There was no way that box would fit on that shelf. Why he didn’t simply empty the entire shed out and do it correctly, lining everything inside it up in neat sections, was beyond Dean.

“You should stack these better and they wouldn’t fall,” Dean said, his voice a bit raspy from the long flight and hours of not speaking.

“Um, yeah. Thanks. I’ll do that next time. Haven’t opened up this shed in forever, and I forgot what a family of pack rats we are.”

Dean didn’t comment. He let go of the guy, who immediately rubbed his arm. Dean could see where his fingers had left a red mark.

“Didn’t mean to be rough. Wanted to grab you before that box hit your head.”

“No, that’s fine. I was just caught off guard.” The other man was staring at him, and Dean pulled a little at his collar. He forgot how oddly civilians sometimes viewed the military. He hoped he wasn’t going to get lectured about politics or anything. He had enough on his mind with the kid. Dean put the box down on the grass.

“You must be Nicki’s uncle?”

At Dean’s nod, his gaze swept over Dean’s uniform. Nope, it wasn’t judgment in his face; it was admiration. Dean breathed a little easier. He could handle a lot of questions about the Night Stalkers. This guy would probably go on about all the reasons he’d wanted to join the military but never did. Dean got that a lot.

“I’m Anthony Carrino.”

“Captain Dean Pierce.”

“I’m really glad you decided to be here for Nicki. She’s at the movies with my dad right now, and nobody else is home, but you’re welcome to come in. I’d like to talk with you, actually, before you meet her. She’s a bit fragile. Even before Jenna’s accident, Nicki had trouble in school and—”

“Can you tell me about it?”

“What? Nicki’s trouble?”

“No. The accident.”

“You don’t know the details?”


Anthony hesitated. He ran his hand through his thick brown hair that curled just at the nape of his neck. Dean braced himself for what he’d say.

“It was a car accident. The truck driver had been driving here from Texas and fell asleep at the wheel. He T-boned Jenna’s car as she was coming home from work—Oh God, I’m sorry. This is coming out horribly.”

“It’s all right. I asked you.”

“Still, I’m sorry. I can’t even imagine if one of my sisters—” He bit down on his lip.

“It’s fine.”

But Dean could picture it now: the glass shattering, metal twisting, the acrid smell of gasoline, Jenna’s second of pure terror. He was used to death. He’d seen plenty of good men and women blown up or shot at in combat, but this was his sister, and even if they’d lost touch, it still ripped at his guts.

“You know,” Anthony said, giving him a speculative glance, “we didn’t even know about you for some time. Jenna never mentioned having a brother.”

“We fell out of contact. You said the kid was having trouble in school, even before Jenna was…?” He couldn’t get himself to say the words Jenna and killed together. Instead, Dean began to take some of the boxes out of the shed and reorganize them.

He could feel Anthony’s gaze on him again, and he tried to ignore the sizzle of awareness that shot through him. He needed to focus on why he was there and not on this guy’s handsome, almost pretty face and his hard, lean body. Jesus, nothing about this situation seemed real. He wasn’t used to chaos and mess, emotionally, physically, or otherwise. Dean gripped one box tightly until his knuckles turned white, then forced himself to let it go. He lifted it a second time and slid it into place. He sorted through a few more boxes, organizing them too.

“We can take this one step at a time, okay? I’ll tell you what. Let me show you the house and her room, and then I’ll be happy to share with you all about Nicki. Mr. Haines, her social worker, and my father, who is Nicki’s temporary foster parent, must be involved in all this too. We can all sit down together and talk.”

“I thought you were her foster parent.”

“Me? No. I’m her guidance counselor at school, and I’ve come to care about Nicki, so when this happened, I asked my dad for a favor.”


“He and my mom have taken in a few kids over the years, and they’ve known Mr. Haines for a long time. Only my mom’s out of town right now and couldn’t help. She’s with my sister, Stacey, who is having a difficult pregnancy. Mom insisted on flying off to New Jersey to look after Stacey’s girls. Stacey told her that she could manage, but nothing stops Mom when she insists on something. Luckily, Dad agreed to take in Nicki for me. Mom will help out too, of course, when she comes back. And God, I’m rambling on about my family. Sorry. I do that sometimes.”

Anthony paused. He looked at Dean expectantly.

“Anyway,” Anthony continued when Dean didn’t speak, “it’s temporary. Mom and Dad stopped taking in kids on a long-term basis a while ago, so we’ll still need to work out a more permanent foster home for Nicki.”

Dean jammed his hands into his pockets. The word “foster home” left a vile taste at the back of his throat.

Anthony motioned for Dean to follow him. “Come into the house. We might as well get to know each other a little more.”

Reluctantly, Dean followed.

He could do this. It would be a week, two at the most. He’d treat it like a job. Go in, do the mission, get out. Then he’d be back in Afghanistan where he belonged.

The minute Anthony opened the back door, a golden retriever puppy bounded right at him, nearly tripping him.

“Oh, hiya, Moose. You crazy dog.” He laughed. “This is the true baby of the house, Nicki’s puppy, Moose.”

“Her puppy?”

“Yeah.” Anthony cocked his head. “Do you like dogs?”

Dean looked at the puppy. Moose had his head cocked too, just like Anthony.

“They’re okay.”

“Oh. Let me put him into his crate. I’m really supposed to be keeping him there most of the day to train him, but he cries so much. The other night, I went down and slept beside him.”

Dean said nothing, and after an awkward moment, Anthony caged the puppy.

It was a pretty nice house, better than most Dean had been inside of, anyhow. The kitchen was big and roomy. It had a big pantry that was half-open and filled to the brim with cereals and chips and pastas. The appliances were stainless steel and very modern-looking. At the end of the hallway was a great room with a damn nice plasma-screen television front and center. But it wasn’t luxurious or cold. The sofa was well used, and the glass table had a small nick in the corner. Somebody had collected or made doilies too. There were intricate patterns crocheted and on display in several places, some tucked under lamps or vases and others hanging in the china cabinet. Dean wondered offhand who sewed them. He had an urge to run his finger down one. He rarely saw anything so delicate. The house was neat but not immaculate. There were magazines spread out on the coffee table and a pair of sneakers by the front door. Still taking it all in, Dean followed Anthony up the stairs. They climbed up to the second floor, which was dimly lit but smelled nice, like roses. Maybe Anthony’s family went in for that potpourri stuff, or maybe it was cleaner. Whatever it was, Dean took another appreciative sniff. Army barracks, even the good ones, didn’t smell like flowers.

“This is where Nicki is staying for right now. It isn’t perfect, but I think she’s comfortable.”

He led Dean down the hallway and opened a door for him to walk through. Funny thing, the way his stomach tightened up. The kid wasn’t even in there, yet Dean had to tell himself to breathe. He strode past Anthony and into the room.

Dean looked around. The walls were a bright blue, and there was a decent bed loaded with pillows. There was also a wall of books. Most of them were about cars or about the lives of various basketball players like Michael Jordan and Larry Bird.

“Is this your room?”

“Yeah. Well, when I was a kid. Up until a few months back, I was living in my own place in Mesa and commuting to work here in Glamour. But my mom never bothered to change it too much.” He looked around absently, gliding his hand over one of the books. “I never imagined I’d end up back here.”

Not knowing what to say to that, Dean turned and inspected the rest of the room. On the desk was a backpack, half-open, crammed with papers and notebooks. It was purple and had some pop singer on the front of it. Pink maybe? Dean wasn’t sure. A bunch of nail polish sat next to it, as though the kid had painted her nails instead of doing her homework, and next to that was a Wii game. At least Dean wasn’t so out of touch that he didn’t recognize Mario.

Dean started to say as much to Anthony when he noticed a tangle of blankets in the closet. He walked closer, seeing an old air mattress in there too. Was his niece sleeping in here and not on the bed? Why? Dean slowly shifted his weight from side to side. Anthony seemed like a good guy, but Dean had lived long enough, had survived enough shit, to know that people were often not what they seemed, and all kinds of things happened behind closed doors. He and Jenna had both learned that the hard way.

“Why is the kid sleeping in there?” His voice came out low and gravelly.


“Don’t deny it.”

“I wasn’t going to.” Anthony gave him a puzzled look. “We offered her the twins’ old room, but she liked mine. Since I was already set up in our guest room, I was fine with that. She has the bed, of course. But we kept finding Nicki curled up in the closet in the morning. So I blew up that air mattress for her and gave her some blankets. Believe me, I’d rather she sleeps in a bed too, but I guess she needs a small space. I think it feels good to her, safe or something. She’s starting with a therapist soon, and I was going to bring it up. For now, I talked with the social workers, and we all agreed to let Nicki dictate her needs. As long as she’s not hurting herself. I can see this upsets you, but it’s what she seems to want.”

Dean stared hard into Anthony’s hazel eyes, flecked with gold and brown, and he saw nothing but warmth. Unsettled, Dean watched Anthony move a step closer to him.

“I promise you”—Anthony smiled, his lips curving upward—“the only one living in the closet in this house was me, and I came out swinging.” He made a motion as if he had a bat in his hand.

Dean didn’t answer. He’d never really mastered joking with people. His tongue felt thick and useless in his mouth. Dean pushed past Anthony and strode into the hallway. He scuffed his shoe at the edge of Anthony’s stairs, feeling pretty ridiculous, and worse, like an ungrateful ass. He shouldn’t have returned to Phoenix. He just didn’t belong there, not in this house, in this town, or with this girl. Dean didn’t belong with regular people. He’d seen too much blood and war. He didn’t know how to be normal; maybe he never had known.

He sensed Anthony coming up behind him and tensed. “She’s all right, Dean. Really.” His voice was soft. “I mean considering what she’s going through, Nicki craving a small space to hide away seemed logical.”


“Okay? With her sleeping there? With everything? What?”

When Dean didn’t answer, Anthony made an impatient sound. “So why are you so quiet? Or are you upset about what I said before?”

“Before?” Dean turned around.

“About me and the closet? My impulsive, slightly corny joke? You don’t have a problem with my being gay, do you?” Anthony asked, folding his arms at his chest. “Because I’m out at school and here at home, and I plan to stay that way.”

“No. I….” Dean stared at him. He swallowed. “No.”

“Oh, okay.” Anthony’s stance lost some of its hardness. “Good. That reminds me. I forgot to ask you before if you’re involved with anybody. Girlfriend? Wife? I’m asking because of Nicki and how this might fit into things for her.”



“I’m a Night Stalker. Do you even know what that means?”

“I think that you—”

“We’re Special Forces,” Dean interrupted. “We’re the most elite helicopter force in the whole damn world. We fly into enemy territory and navigate our way through it to complete search-and-rescue missions or perform high-risk air assaults. I don’t have time for anything else.” He’d had enough of this bullshit. Dean started quickly down the stairs, taking them two at a time, Anthony at his heels.

As he reached the front door, Dean turned back, and Anthony nearly collided into him. They looked at each other a moment.

“Do you have a hotel yet? You could stay here or I could suggest one. Glamour only has one motel, but there’s a four-star hotel about fifteen minutes from here.”

“No. I don’t need some fancy hotel. A motel close by is fine.”

“Are you sure?”

Anthony held up one hand at Dean’s curt nod. “Wait here a second. Let me at least give you a few things.”

Anthony dashed away before Dean could protest. He heard Anthony moving in the house. He heard the puppy whimper. He was tempted to get into his car and leave, but Anthony came back. He thrust a plastic bag into Dean’s hands.

“What’s this?”

“Oh, you know, just some things to make your stay more comfortable.”

Dean glanced into the bag. There were soaps, shampoos, a sleep mask, pillowcases, detergent, and a bunch of quarters.

“The motel has a coin laundry,” Anthony said. “Or you could bring your laundry here. And my sisters can spare all the other stuff. Beauty is their business.” He smiled widely at Dean. “We aim to make our guests comfortable here in Glamour.”

Dean didn’t smile back. After a moment, he managed a fast “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” He opened the front door. “Well, I’ll show you where the motel is. You can follow me there.”

“I’ll MapQuest it.”

“Right. Okay.”

Dean took out his phone and Anthony typed in the address.

“It’s not much to look at, but it’s clean. You won’t find a carpet that turns your socks black or anything here. And they give you free coffee and a newspaper in the lobby.”

“It’s fine. I don’t need much.”

Anthony looked as though he expected to say more. Dean had nothing to say. Outside of army talk, he rarely knew what to say to people. God, he was failing at all this already, failing to joke, failing to respond to small talk. He should have stayed with the Stalkers. He needed to get out of there, away from Anthony, and think.

“Do you need anything else?”


“I could show you that hotel?”


“And you will come back tomorrow?”


“Are you deliberately trying to be difficult?”

“What do you mean?” Dean was painfully aware of his shortcomings.

“Nothing.” Anthony shook his head, smiling slightly, studying him. “You’re just not what I’m used to I guess.”

Dean stared back.

“Look,” he said. “Maybe this isn’t fully my place to ask, but I need to know. What exactly is your plan here?”


“For Nicki?”

“I don’t have one.”

“Oh.” Anthony paused. He smiled ruefully. “Now I’m the one talking in monosyllables.”

“I’m not good at this,” Dean said. He could feel heat rising to his face. “I don’t belong here. I have no plan for the kid. I came to see her and maybe, I don’t know, get to know her because of my sister or whatever, but… I’ll just fuck her up more.” He heard a note of raw panic in his own voice and fought to control it.

“No, you won’t.”

“How do you know?”

“Because you’re worried about it. If you would thoughtlessly hurt Nicki, you wouldn’t be worried. Besides, I’m hoping that in the long run meeting you will help her. Everybody needs family, needs somebody, even if they can’t give you everything you want.”

Dean grunted at Anthony’s naïveté, but didn’t try to argue. Spoken like a guy who came from a decent family. Some family was scum, not worth knowing, not worth having.

“I’ll talk to Nicki. All right? If she agrees, then you can come around eleven?”

“Fine,” Dean grunted. Then, realizing he’d only given Anthony a one-word answer again, he added, “Lunch.”

AFTER HE arrived at the motel, Dean unpacked and went to the pool. The only good part about growing up in Arizona had been that almost every crappy place he’d stayed with Jenna came with a crappy pool, and Dean had been a great swimmer from an early age. Dean’s workout usually involved long, intense swimming with his fins on and then a long run, but he made do with what he had. His swim alternated between high bursts of speed and longer, endurance-building laps. He tried not to dwell too much on the long day, Anthony Carrino, or the girl, Nicki. Fuck. He tried to just swim, pushing his body until his muscles burned and his lungs screamed. Water splashed over the edges of the pool as he increased his turning speed, pounding out lap after brutal lap. It didn’t help, not the way it usually did. His body was fatigued, but his nerves were still all fired up.

He made his way to his room and cleaned up in the shower, letting the water hit his back and still-sore shoulder, and then he wrapped himself up in a thin towel at his waist and flopped down on the bed. He had to admit, Anthony’s soap had smelled nice. Kind of like fresh oranges.

He turned the television on and watched a few cheesy sitcoms, but he couldn’t concentrate on them. Dean shut off the TV and tried to sleep. His long legs hung off the bed, and the mattress was way too soft. He was used to hard bunks or even the bare ground. He’d rather be jumping out of a plane than looking into his niece’s face tomorrow. But he’d try. He would go to lunch, attempt to talk with her, find her a decent place to end up. Dean could see his sister’s sad, pretty face right in front of him. It was the least he could do for Jenna.

The very least, Jenna would’ve said.

“I’m sorry,” Dean whispered hoarsely into the darkness. He stretched his hand out to the flat pillow, his sister’s face only a blurred memory. He tried to see her features in his mind more clearly and failed. And now… Jenna was dead. They’d never get a chance to put things right. Dean knew he’d screwed up forever, so he dropped his hand to his side, turned away from the pillow, and struggled to sleep. He had a bad feeling about all of this.

The Only Guy #2
Chapter One

Aaron couldn’t believe it had been nearly ten years since he’d been a regular civilian. He ran a hand through his short dark hair. Even that was odd, that he no longer had it all buzzed off. He could do what he liked now with his hair, the way he dressed, the way he lived.

Yesterday he was a soldier. Now he wasn’t.

He glanced around his childhood home, the brownstone, which his mom had kept in the divorce. It looked the same, even smelled the same. His mom hadn’t replaced any of the main furniture or even the faded rose wallpaper. He was tempted to unthread his fingers from around his mug of coffee and push back his chair and run out to buy something new.

“Earth to Aaron.”

“Oh. Sorry, Mom.”

“That’s okay. More lox?”

“No. I’m good.”

“I have more cream cheese too. What time is your appointment?”

“In an hour. But you don’t have to go.”

“I want to.” His mom pulled up a chair next to him, almost right on top of him, and watched as Aaron took a bite into his bagel.

His mom had been his rock during his recovery in Germany. She’d flown there to be with him through his evaluation and treatments. She held his hand without offering any unwanted advice. But her eyes had been constantly on him, tense and aware, and he’d felt her unending need to stare at the center of his chest as if she could see right into his bummer heart.

“It might be a long wait.” The army picked up the bill, but the VA hospital waiting rooms took forever.

“I don’t mind. I’ll bring a book.”


Part of Aaron wanted to sulk about being treated like a child, but the more mature part of him didn’t want to hurt his mom. It was a tightrope walk, knowing when to speak up for his independence and when to keep his mouth shut. All he knew for certain was that he needed to get out of the brownstone and find a place of his own soon.

“Let me organize some bills, you finish breakfast, and we can go.” She turned and took down the stack of mail from a shelf nearby.

“I need to take a shower.”

“You did get up late today. Are you feeling tired?” Her brow creased with concern.


“You can tell me.”

“Mom, I was being lazy and sleeping in.”

“Right. Okay, just thought I’d ask.”

Aaron chewed on his lox and cream cheese bagel in silence. Getting decent deli again and sleeping in were two things almost worth being sent home for. Almost.

“Ellie? Where are you?” his grandmother, who also lived with his mom, called out.

“Here, Ma.”


“We’re in the kitchen,” his mom shouted.


“I said we’re in here.”

Grandma Belle came into the kitchen. “Well, speak up.”

“Morning, Grandma Belle,” Aaron said loudly.

“What’s that?”


“Oh. Morning, son.” His grandmother sat down next to him. She wore a colorful floral dress that was tight across her stomach. She touched a hand to her wispy thin hair. “Don’t look at me closely. I haven’t put on my makeup yet.” She juggled her oversized purse, as big as a bowling ball, near Aaron’s head.

“You look fine. Beautiful.” His grandma had been a real looker in her day. She’d once been on Broadway as a chorus girl. She still had good strong legs.

“Really?” Her face, a map of wrinkles, broke into a pleased smile. “Thanks.” She pinched his cheeks, hard.

At least it wasn’t his ass. Grandma Belle had been known to grope the male members of the family on occasion.

He watched with amusement as his grandma took out some red lipstick and, without even needing a mirror, applied it perfectly to her lips. It looked a bit clownish to him, though, considering the rest of her face was speckled with age spots.

“Ellie, you should put some lipstick on.”

“No thanks, Ma.”

“It’ll brighten your complexion.”

“I’m happy without it.”


“I said that I’m fine.”

His grandma turned to him. “What’d she say? I swear, Ellie, you mumble something awful.”

Aaron met his mom’s eyes. She had taken Grandma Belle in a few years ago, and it couldn’t have been easy. All the more reason Aaron didn’t want to add to his mom’s burden, though, of course, she’d never say that to him.

To distract Grandma Belle, Aaron leaned nearer. “Grandma, you’re looking so good, in fact, it’s a shame to let all this beauty go to waste, yours and mine both. What do you say we go out tonight? Another early bird dinner and bingo? You can even bring along the girls again, as long as they behave.”

The “girls” were his grandma’s female friends over at the senior center. Though most would think he’d rather run naked through the army barracks in subzero temperatures than play bingo with some old ladies, it had actually been fun the last time Aaron went. Grandma Belle’s only friend who still drove, Esther, had picked them up in her new candy-apple red Cadillac and they’d cruised about fifteen miles an hour over to the bingo hall at the senior center. Aaron had been impressed at how seriously those ladies took their bingo. Each of them had at least ten cards and there was some big cash to be won.

“Behave? What’s the fun in that?” Grandma Belle chortled. She grabbed the remote to turn on the television.

“True. Okay, then, we can make it a wild night.” Aaron waggled his eyebrows.

“This one is an even bigger flirt than I am,” Grandma Belle said to his mother. “And that’s saying something. Must be in the blood.”

“Must be,” his mom agreed absently.

“Or else I was a victim of a body snatching,” Aaron said. “Strange things happen out in the desert.”

Grandma Belle had been married three times. Once to some fellow nobody ever talked about because it was a past scandal involving an actor; once to Aaron’s Grandpa Joe, whose kind and steady presence Aaron could still recall, but who died long ago from a sudden stroke; and finally to Teddy, who was technically still her husband but had advanced Alzheimer’s and didn’t remember her or any of them. Teddy now lived in a full time care unit, and his grandmother saw him faithfully twice a week. Despite all his teasing, Aaron admired his grandmother.

“Oh boy.” His mom stopped sorting the mail and sighed.

“What’s wrong?”

“This.” She held up a letter with fancy engraving on it. “Saul and Naomi Ross are having some huge shindig celebrating their fortieth wedding anniversary. I’m sure your father will be there with what’s her name.”

“So? Don’t go.”

“Why shouldn’t I? I may not have been in touch with Naomi as much as your dad was in touch with Saul all these years, but this invitation has my name on it.”

“Okay. Go, then.”

“Alone? Really? That would be fun.” She tossed the invitation at him. “It says I can bring a plus one.” His mom looked at him, and Aaron looked down at his bagel.

Grandma Belle turned up the volume. Aaron winced at the sound of the game show contestant squealing over a prize.

His mom rolled her eyes. She gestured for Aaron to leave the table and the two of them walked away from his grandmother and the television to the other side of the kitchen.

She touched Aaron’s shoulder tentatively. “Would you consider going with your old mom? I can’t stand the thought of showing up alone. If you don’t come, I’ll be forced to take Grandma, and you know how loud she gets at social functions. The party is two weeks from now. Plenty of time to get a nice suit and all….” She pressed the invitation into his hand.

Aaron fingered the fancy writing across the top of the creamy envelope. His mom was so preoccupied about seeing his dad and his younger wife that she seemed to have forgotten that going to the Ross’s anniversary party would mean Aaron seeing Gregory again.

“Unless you don’t want to see Gregory again?”

Damn! His mom still could read his mind. Aaron looked up at her, and she gave him a wry smile.

“How is Gregory?” he asked carefully.

“Great, from the little I hear. He’s away right now on some big marketing campaign in Japan or something, but he’ll be at the party I’m sure. And he’s on and off again with that fiancée of his.”

“Right.” Aaron had often replayed Gregory’s various looks and small touches in his mind from all those years, still convinced he’d been right and Gregory had been checking him out. There had been chemistry.

“Six years of being engaged,” his mom said. “It’s weird. Isn’t it? To be engaged that long already.”


He wasn’t jealous exactly. Aaron refused to get jealous. He was curious, though. Why hadn’t he married her? Was he gay and still in the closet? Would Gregory be braver now? Would it be possible to finally “get” the one that got away? Gregory had been his first love, unrequited or not. And no matter how many other people Aaron had fun with over the years, there was always a twinge in his heart at the thought of seeing Gregory again. Okay, it made him shallow, but Aaron could admit that a part of him wanted to see Gregory squirming at the sight of him—just a little—was that so wrong? And if Gregory suddenly dropped to his knees and declared Aaron the lost love of his life, who was he to argue?

“I don’t know what the two of them are waiting for with the long engagement. I always see them in the newspaper society section at this posh function or that one. But no wedding dates.” His mom’s mouth twisted bitterly. “Of course, your father and I married fast and young and look where that took us.”

Aaron handed her back the invitation. “I’ll think about it.”

Maybe there were second chances to make an old love gone wrong go right. Stranger things had happened. Not that Aaron was looking for anything permanent—not with Gregory or anybody else. Love and promises were fine for other people. He wasn’t interested.

“Have you called him?”

“Who?” Aaron blinked. Did she mean Gregory?

“Your dad.”

“No, not yet.”

An uncomfortable silence fell between them. No matter how much time passed, his mom never let go of the divorce, and Aaron fought the urge to flee the room as he would have done a few years back.

“I do need to go and see him.”

“Whatever you need to do,” his mom replied.

“Pick number three, number three, you ninny!” Grandma Belle shouted at the television, pumping her gnarled hand in the air.

His mom looked over at her and then back at Aaron.

“Mom, I get that he was a jerk to you and that you haven’t had an easy time since, but he is my dad.”

“Number three!”

His mom nodded curtly. “I know that, Aaron. I understand. He hasn’t seen you in a long time. You should call him. It would probably be good for both of you.”

“Really? Okay. I’ll do that.” Aaron gave his mom’s shoulders a squeeze. “Thanks, Mom. I know the thought of Dad still hurts.”

“When I see him and his twenty-nothing wife and their baby, it makes me crazy.” His mom drew a deep breath. “Oops! Sorry. That slipped out! I was trying to be all magnanimous. Now I ruined the moment. I do understand that you want to see him. Pretend I never admitted the rest, okay?”

Aaron laughed. “Admitted what?”

She hugged him to her. “Oh baby, I’ve missed you so much.”

“Missed you too, Mom. A lot. And if you want, I’ll go to the Ross’s party with you.”

“You will?”


“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. Thank you!”

“Oh stop. I’m going to shower and see the doctor and then see Dad, okay? And I can do it all by myself.” Aaron kissed the top of his mom’s head. “Solo.”

AARON SAT on a park bench in Central Park, people-watching.

God, he was sick of being poked and prodded. And it was always the same result: your heart valve might be fine and the damage might stay minimal, or you might need surgery someday. They couldn’t tell him when or even if he’d need surgery, so what was the point? Every examination only made him anxious. He’d already wasted weeks in the hospital recovering—first from a nasty infection he’d picked up in Afghanistan and then when the infection had led to endocarditis. He was sick of being sick.

The doctor had asked him to make an appointment again for next month for more monitoring, and he’d left without stopping at the nurse’s station to do it. Would it really hurt things to simply take a few weeks off from it all? He wanted to enjoy the autumn weather, reconnect with family and friends, get laid. Thank God his doctors hadn’t forbidden that.

His cell phone chimed, interrupting his thoughts. Aaron glanced at the number and smiled as he answered it. “Hey, Pierce! Calling again? You know you missed my sexy voice. Admit it. You just need to hear it every week or so.” Pierce only grunted in reply. Aaron stifled a laugh. He couldn’t resist flirting a little. It made Dean Pierce so uncomfortable. “How’s the boyfriend?”


“Only good?” Aaron teased. “We both know I’m the better catch and you’re pining away for me, but I like Anthony. At least I like what you have to say about him. Don’t go breaking his heart for me. I’m not worth it.”

“I’ll try to restrain myself.”

“Do that. And how’s your niece? Nicki?”

“She’s good too.”

Aaron rolled his eyes at his friend’s brevity with words, but he was used to it. Pierce had been his bunkmate in the Night Stalkers. Although Pierce was a difficult sort of guy to get to know, they’d built a solid friendship based on years of being to hell and back together before Pierce had to go home on a hardship discharge to care for his niece. Ironically, Aaron had fallen sick within days of his departure and they’d both ended up stateside.

“How’re you?” Pierce asked.

“Great. I’m really good. Actually, scratch that. I’m more than good. I’m fantastic. Awesome. I’m sitting here in the park, checking out all the hot men, trying to decide who will get my lucky attention tonight.”

“You dog.”

“That’s me.” Aaron let out a playful howl, drawing the attention of some joggers. As they slowed down to look at him, he gave them a broad grin. One of them was checking out his crotch. He tapped his hand at his thigh and nearly laughed when the jogger paused and licked his lips before moving on. It was true that he liked to have fun. In the army, he’d loved his brief encounters with men and women, easy friends, easy fun—always managing to find somebody to warm his bed on his times of leave. And why not? He gave pleasure as much as he’d gotten it. No strings. No commitments. No need to take the whole thing too seriously.

He didn’t flaunt his preferences in front of most of the other soldiers, although Pierce and a few others had known. But when he was on leave, Aaron had openly enjoyed flirting.

“I can only imagine what you’ve been up to since you got out,” Pierce said, interrupting his thoughts. “Still only interested in the pretty ones?”

“Of course,” Aaron replied. “You know me. I’m happy being shallow.”

He made it sound as if he’d scored every night since coming home, but that was about as far from the truth as he could get. He hadn’t gone into any clubs at all since he’d returned on his medical discharge, and he wasn’t sure why.

“Too bad you’re an old married guy and can’t come and play with me,” Aaron said, continuing with the farce that he was still his old, outrageous self. “Really, Pierce, out of the closet after years of self-denial and you don’t sow any wild oats? Nope, right to the old ball and chain act. Pathetic.”

“Fuck you. And you know Anthony and I aren’t married….”

“I know. I was only messing around. But you act married whenever you talk about him. Might as well be hitched to the guy.”

There was a silence.

“I’m thinking along those lines.”

“What? You mean marriage?”



“Yeah. I—he’s the one for me.”

Aaron could practically imagine the hot flush that must be staining Pierce’s cheeks. He was usually the strong and silent type. For Pierce, he was practically getting mushy.

“Oh my God! You’re pathetic, then,” Aaron laughed. “And I so have to meet Anthony and find out how he got Dean Pierce to admit to having feelings.”

“Come out to Arizona. Glamour is a small town, but Phoenix is close by. Come visit.”

“I might do that.”

“And you know, Weiss, if Anthony says yes—”

“Don’t be stupid. He’ll say yes. You could always outmuscle him if he hesitates.”

“If Anthony says yes, would you stand up with me?”

Aaron’s teasing grin faded. “Me? That’s… yeah, I would fly out there for you. As long as my doctors okay it.”

“It won’t be for some time. I still need to ask him. And Anthony’s sisters will never let me get away with a small wedding. So it would be a while away.”

“Good. I’ll be there. If it’s what you want, then you know I’ll do it. I’m here for you.”

“Good.” Dean cleared his throat. “What are the doctors saying about your heart?”

“It beats.”


“Ah, you know doctors. All bossy and Godlike about it. And all the medical stuff hasn’t given me time to even figure out what to do next. I’m so fucking lost. I—”

Shit! Aaron pulled the phone from his ear and stared at it, appalled he’d revealed so much. “Forget it! I was only having a little pity party for a moment. It’s all good. You know me; I’ll bounce back in no time.”

“Weiss… I—I felt all that too when I got out. And I turned out fine here. Hang in there, Rabbi.”

Aaron smiled slightly at his old nickname. Dean fit the cliché of a Special Forces guy—all muscle and toughness—while Aaron freely admitted to being more Seinfeld than Schwarzenegger.

Aaron drew in a deep breath. “Yeah. I’ll be fine. I know. And wow, Pierce, you actually did more than grunt at me. Your boyfriend has really improved your communication skills.” He forced himself to continue to talk cheerfully then, because that’s what people expected from him. Nobody liked complaining. But even as he joked with Pierce, Aaron cradled the phone to his cheek and tried to ignore the giant-sized lump in his throat.

“AARON, YOU’RE here,” his dad said as he walked into the apartment. He clasped Aaron’s shoulder tightly. “You’re here.”

“Hey, Dad. Sorry I haven’t stopped by sooner, but—”

“No, no. I’m glad you’re here now.” He shook Aaron’s hand, pumping it up and down. “Really glad, son.”

“Thanks.” They shook hands some more. Aaron had rarely seen his dad like this, so emotional, but the last time he’d seen Aaron was in a hospital and his dad never did well with medical issues. His mom had always handled anything involving blood, scrapes, or broken bones.

“Come and see Valerie.”

Valerie was a few years younger than Aaron, a fact he was trying not to dwell on. At nearly fifty, his dad was a total second marriage, December to May cliché, but Aaron had been gone so long he wanted to reserve judgment about it. His dad had been divorced a long time and he seemed happy with Valerie in his e-mails, so…. It was odd, though, looking at her pert little nose and freshly scrubbed face, her hair pulled back in a scrunchy, and having to think of her as his dad’s actual wife. On top of that, he had a new baby brother, Matthew.

“Nate’s been pacing at the door, waiting for you,” Valerie said.

“I haven’t been pacing,” his dad protested, flushing a little.

“Yes, you have, honey. It’s sweet too.”

Aaron looked at his dad’s embarrassed expression, which he was certain matched his own, and then looked away.

“So that’s my little brother, huh?”

“Yep. This is Matthew.”

“Hi, Aaron!” Valerie pretended to have Matthew give him a wave. “I’m so excited you’re here!” She bounced up and down on the couch, which made Matthew gurgle happily.

“You too.” Aaron bent down and gave her a quick hug in return. Valerie seemed nice—she was so friendly, Aaron had to like her somewhat—but it was a little like having the featherbrained head cheerleader for a stepmother.

“And here he is! Matthew!” His dad’s voice filled with pride. “Look at this. My two sons!”

Aaron smiled at his dad and then looked down at the baby.

Matthew was pudgy and had only a little whirl of hair on the top of his head. He looked right at Aaron, and Aaron felt an unexpected rush of pure emotion. He’d always wanted a sibling. He’d dreamed of it right up until his parents had gotten divorced.

“He is a cute little guy.”

“Oh here.” Valerie held him out. “Take him!”

“No. Thanks, but um, I—”

“You must. Really. It’s fine. Hold him.”

He gamely held him a moment, patting his dimpled thighs. He was incredibly soft. Matthew’s skin was like fresh dough. As Aaron looked down at his little brother and he looked back at Aaron so trustingly, he knew he was already lost. He leaned in and whispered, “Want to know a secret? I can’t wait until you’re older. We can play sports and hang out. And bitch about Dad.”

Matthew made a gurgling noise of approval, and Aaron’s throat clogged up. That did it. Matthew was going to own a big piece of him.

“Aw! I’m getting out my camera.” Valerie rummaged through her bag. “Don’t move!”

“Right.” Aaron held Matthew in his arms, carefully cradling his head. “So when does he talk and stuff?”

“Not for quite a long time.”

“We’re sorry you missed his Bris. But hey, in thirteen years, you can be at his bar mitzvah.”


“Valerie,” his dad said.


“Nothing. You don’t need to…. Never mind.”

Valerie wasn’t Jewish, but she was attempting to raise Matthew as a Jew. Technically, as Aaron’s mom loved to point out, the mother must be Jewish for the baby to be Jewish, but Valerie couldn’t quite get herself to give up on Christmas. So Matthew would end up a mixture of the two religions most likely, which Aaron thought was fine. More holidays, more presents. He thought his dad had told him Valerie was Catholic, so poor Matthew would have more guilt too—Catholic and Jewish—to live up to. Poor kid.

The only other time he’d seen Valerie, on leave for his dad’s wedding, she had tried so hard to go out of her way to talk about Jewish things to him that his friend Pierce would have gotten a kick out of it. The guys in the Night Stalkers, his old unit, had nicknamed him “The Rabbi” because he was the only Jewish one there, but truthfully, other than trying to observe some of the high holidays and attend an occasional Passover Seder, Aaron wasn’t religious at all.

He handed Matthew back to Valerie, careful not to release him until he was safely in his mother’s hands.

“He looks a little like you did as a baby,” his dad said.

“He does?” Aaron studied Matthew’s drooling mouth. The baby sucked on his fist.

“Sure. The eyes. I see it there.”

“His are blue, Dad.”

“Baby blue. It will change. You can see the dark color underneath that.”

Aaron smiled bemusedly at his dad. He’d usually been at work most of Aaron’s childhood, busy making money. He’d never heard his father get all poetic about baby eyes before or anything like that. He would have bet his dad wouldn’t have even held him as a baby, but maybe he was wrong. The thought warmed him.

“Anyhow, enough baby talk. Tell me, what are you going to do now? How will you be making a living?”

Aaron choked back a laugh. Okay, now that sounded more like his father. That was a familiar question too, one his dad had been asking him since he’d been small and dreaming of baseball. His dad’s motto was “make a living.” Aaron knew it was the way his dad showed his love. It had made him feel accomplished to earn a good salary, to pay for things; at least Aaron had always thought so. Up until Valerie, his dad had never seemed to want for more.

“I’ve been thinking about it, actually. I’ve always liked computers, you know that. And I’ve been looking into getting certified. I might sign up for a few courses this spring. You really don’t need years of school, so it would work out well for me. I’m looking into the programs.”

“I love my computer,” Valerie offered. “I’m on Facebook all the time. Oh! I know a guy from school who does some really cool gaming things too. My friend Lenny. I’ll e-mail him for you!”

“No, really, Valerie, that’s nice of you but—”

“Do you ever get into that gaming stuff?”

“Um, yeah, I’ve been gaming for years as a hobby, but—”

“Fantastic! I’ll send him an e-mail tonight. Lenny will respond. He totally owes me for setting him up with his girlfriend, too.”

Matthew began to cry then, a startling loud wail, and she scooped him up. “Ew! Mr. Stinky Stink-Pants, time for a diaper change.” She smiled at Aaron. “He’s at the first cereal stage now and his poops are lethal. Big and smelly messes!”

“Right,” Aaron said lamely. What was he supposed to say exactly about baby poop? Why did new moms always think people would want to know about their baby’s poop anyhow? Gross.

Aaron rose to his feet politely as Valerie left the room. He eyed his red-faced little brother one last time. They’d have so much fun once he got that diaper business out of the way.

“She means well,” his dad said. “She has a great heart. Anyhow, tell me about you. Tell me, besides the job hunt, what else are you up to?”

“Besides that? Well, not much. I guess that my plans are to find a place soon. I need to move out and be on my own. I can’t live with Mom and Grandma Belle.”

“Grandma Belle. God, I can only imagine. Is she still the way I remember her?”

“Pretty much.”

“I’d ask you here”—his dad glanced toward the baby’s room—“but it may not be feasible.”

“No, Dad, I get it. Grandma Belle is fine to me; it’s Mom and her who bicker. Anyway, I wouldn’t want to crowd you here. You have your own family.”

“You’re my family too, Aaron. Please don’t think differently about that. Can I help you out some other way? Give you a check?” His dad lowered his voice.

“If I need it. Right now, I’m good.”

“Oh. Okay.”

Aaron knew his dad would help him, if push came to shove, but he’d made his way alone for years, never asking his parents for a thing, and he hated asking them now.

“So where will you go? I suppose you’ll find some roommates?”

“I don’t know.” Aaron frowned. “I’ve lived with so many people over the past years; all I want is some peace and quiet. I might try getting my own place.”

“Can you afford that in the city?”

“Nope. The army isn’t exactly giving me my full benefits, not with a medical discharge. I guess I can move across the river. Live in Hoboken.”

“New Jersey?” His dad, who’d spent his entire life on Upper West Manhattan, shuddered. “Really, Aaron.”

“Yes, really, Dad. I wouldn’t suffer in New Jersey.” Aaron laughed.

“You’re impossible.”

“Then I haven’t changed.”

“Promise me that wherever you move, New Jersey or elsewhere, you won’t lose touch. You’ll call. Visit.”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“It happens. Take Saul’s youngest.”


“Yeah. Remember him? He owns some cockamamie wildlife farm. He must live on berries or some earthy-crunchy shit. It’s right outside of where we used to summer every year. A pretty area, but that Jesse never comes home. From what Naomi and Saul tell me, he’s one odd duck.”

“Jesse! Boy, I haven’t thought of him in a long time. He used to write to me while I was away. He was a really good pen pal to me. Is he going to the Rosses’ anniversary party? I could probably catch up with him there.”

“I don’t know. Sarah and Gregory are a definite yes, but with Jesse? Nobody knows. Like I said, he’s an odd duck.” His dad shot him a look. “You know, Aaron, you might be able to persuade him to come to his parents’ party. I know it would thrill Saul if all his children showed up.”


“Sure. Jesse was crazy about you. So if you want to see him, this might be your chance. And if you’re able to convince him to return to the city in a few weeks’ time, even better. Take my Audi. Since I walk to work, I haven’t driven it in ages. It’s all yours.”

“I don’t know, Dad. I doubt he’d care what I think and it’s a pretty far drive.”

“Make a long weekend out of it. Why not? The fresh air and countryside might do you some good.”

“I’m fine.”

“I know. Sure. Of course you are. But weren’t you saying you could use a break?”


“It would be a nice little vacation for you.”

“I could drive up there for fun and take a breather. I guess. Maybe see Jesse. But no promises about the party.”


IT WAS a gorgeous drive. It was hard to keep his eyes on the road when there was so much beauty in the landscape. Aaron liked the city, always had, but this drive was exactly what he needed right now. Rolling down his windows, Aaron took a deep breath of the crisp fall air. It smelled like campfires, fresh earth, and sweet flowers. Those summers with his and the Ross family had been good times, before his parents’ divorce and before his loss of Gregory’s friendship. Maybe because those two events had happened closely together, they both lingered in his mind as the end of his childhood. Not that he’d entered the army a man, surely not. He’d been a scared, confused boy back then, but he’d grown up since. He’d been responsible for fellow soldiers, he’d flown choppers into the heart of enemy lines, and he’d made his independence known.

That’s why all this sucked. His parents both meant well, but every anxious look, every piece of unsolicited advice made him balk. He knew finding a place of his own would make his mom sad, but Aaron truly thought it was for the best. His parents loved him, and Aaron understood that he was lucky, but living with them didn’t feel like home anymore. He wasn’t sure where home was for him.

Aaron turned onto a dirt road, the car bumping up and down on the unpaved stretch. Good thing it wasn’t winter, because the bumpy road was all uphill and the Audi didn’t have four-wheel drive. The car edged forward, with nothing in sight but the king-sized trees towering all around him. It didn’t surprise him that Jesse would choose to live out here. He always was a kid more at home in the wild. It was hard to picture Jesse looking any other way than with his painfully skinny frame, dirty feet, smudged glasses, and a sketch pad in his hand as he followed Aaron and Gregory around.

Jesse had faithfully written to Aaron for years, but Aaron still pictured him as that boy. Truthfully, when Jesse’s very first letter had arrived at Aaron’s basic training camp, he’d been disappointed. As he turned it over and saw the return address labeled simply “Ross,” Aaron’s heart had flipped over. He’d been so sure it was Gregory writing to him, but it had been Jesse.

Hi Aaron,
Your mom gave me this address. I hope it’s okay that I write to you. How’s basic training? Are the officers mean? The summer seems weird without you and Gregory here. Did you know Gregory is giving up baseball? He says he wants to only concentrate on school, but it’s so dumb. I would never abandon something I love for better grades. Oh, hey I hope you don’t mind that I mention him. I know you guys had some big fight, or whatever. Gregory can be stupid. Believe me, I know!
Anyhow, I wish you were here this summer.
Your friend,

Aaron had crumpled the letter up. Not hearing from Gregory had been a kick in the teeth. Hurt cramped him and he pushed his thoughts away. But Jesse’s letters had kept on coming. Slowly, Aaron began to look forward to them. It took him away from his day-to-day life. The endless drills, bad food, the smell of body odor and gunpowder. Aaron was still in the first phase of training—the grueling physical side. Exhaustion was too mild a word for how he felt, and unlike some of the other Rambo types, Aaron wasn’t certain he was looking forward to phase two and learning all about weapons, guns and bayonets and tanks. At that time, he wasn’t certain where he would fit into the army, if any place. Jesse’s letters began to be like a balm to him, soothing him, taking him away for a while.

Dear Aaron,
I’m basically writing this in my English class, instead of passing notes like other kids. My teacher, Mr. Cook, is an idiot. He reads any notes he finds out loud to the class, and he writes our names on the board if we misbehave in any way. Isn’t public shaming against some school policy? Plus, Mr. Cook has awful breath. I can’t listen to him discuss A Separate Peace when all I can think is he needs a better toothpaste.
On the other hand, he’s not as bad as Mrs. Langston. She tries to be everybody’s “friend.” There’s nothing more annoying than a teacher who still wants to be popular, you know?
Sorry to complain. I hate school. Too many people. I can’t breathe. The kids are jerks to me. They think I’m weird. Whenever I walk into class, I get a prickly feeling down my neck.
Sorry to hear about all the things going on with your parents’ divorce.
I still owe you that favor

Aaron realized then that he’d been selfishly reading Jesse’s letters for weeks, and he’d yet to write back to the poor kid. He was a total asshole. After heading back to his bunk, Aaron took out a pen and scrounged around for some paper. He should really tell Jesse to start e-mailing him too, but truthfully, there was just something about receiving paper letters with old-fashioned stamps that appealed to Aaron. It made him feel as if this might be summer camp and not the army, and he wasn’t headed off to some dangerous, unknown fighting soon, but simply on a strange vacation from home. Of course it wasn’t summer camp at all. It was serious and intense, and nothing that Aaron felt like sharing with Jesse. Besides, Jesse clearly had troubles of his own. He never did fit in with other kids. Jesse could use a friend. So he kept his tone light:

Hiya, Jesse!
Try not to worry too much about the other kids in school. When you graduate and get out into the real world, all of that bullshit seems small and petty. I meet people from all over now. Sometimes, it takes a little effort to get past first impressions. As for the teachers, if you’re like Gregory and Sarah, you probably can’t help being the smartest kid in the room. But, shit, I remember Mr. Cook. His breath stank back then too. Yuck.
Hang in there. Things really do change.

What Aaron didn’t say in his letter to Jesse was that drill sergeants could be like teachers. There were good ones and bad. Aaron had been lucky at first, but his new sergeant was a mean son of a bitch who didn’t much care for Aaron. He’d been going over Aaron’s work assignment, the same assignment he’d gone over before, and Aaron had made the mistake of cutting him off and saying, “I got it, sir.” Now Sergeant Todd thought he was ill-mannered, when all Aaron intended was to show how eager he was for duty. Big mistake. He shouldn’t have interrupted, but Sergeant Todd was a slow talker. Aaron struggled to redeem himself that entire week, and he was tired and unhappy. Jesse’s letters continued, and each one felt like home to Aaron. He waited now for them to come. Meanwhile, Aaron had finally found somewhere to fit into the army. He’d learned that he loved flying. After finishing basic, he applied for ground school and initial flight training. It was a win/win. He got away from Sergeant Todd, and he’d started to learn things about choppers—how to take off, hover, and land. He wrote several letters to Jesse at that time in his excitement:

Hi Jesse!
I’m learning to be a chopper pilot. Did I mention it before? I’m learning to feel the rhythm of the bird. That’s what the gals and guys in my flight program call the choppers. There’s a shit load to learn, but I like it a lot. That’s my favorite time—when I’m heading up and looking into the sky and everything else is beyond the horizon. It’s kind of awesome to be doing something real. I fall into bed each night totally fatigued but in a good way. I met a new bunkmate today, Dean Pierce. He’s bigger than a mountain and about as talkative. All the guy does is point or grunt. I can’t see us becoming friends, but I don’t really care, as long as Pierce doesn’t bother me. Anyhow, I’m excited because once I finish flight school, I will be deployed. I’m not sure where, but I’ll keep you posted.
Take care,

Dear Aaron,
A chopper pilot, huh? I’m not surprised. You probably fly like you pitch. With accuracy and speed. I always thought you had some bird inside you. Not an eagle or a hawk, although they are great birds, but a spine-tailed swift. Do you know about them? Spine-tailed swift are amazingly fast birds. They reach their top speeds in what scientists call their “screaming parties” during mating season too. Since I’ve been reading all about birds, I think you would be a swift. And yeah, here I go again babbling about animals.
Oh, and guess what? Gregory actually defended me yesterday from some kids in the neighborhood. He chased them off and walked me inside. When I asked him why, he shrugged and said, “I’m your brother.” Most of the time, he stays away at college and doesn’t bother with me, but I guess he was feeling generous since he’s only home on a holiday break. It made me feel good, but later that same day, he shut the door to his room and wouldn’t let me in. So I suppose he’s not all bad, but I doubt we will ever like the same things. You know?
My other news (and this won’t shock you I don’t think) is that I’ve given up eating meat of any kind. I told my parents about it last week over their prime rib dinner. I told them exactly why and how cruel the meat markets are and all of that. They said nothing. Sometimes, I don’t think they are even my real parents. I keep on waiting for them to tell me that I’m adopted.
Your friend,

Hey there,
Say it isn’t so? You gave up meat? That’s it, we can’t be pals. I feel guilty enough over all the bacon I consume, I refuse to feel guilty over cows too. All in all, flight school is way better than basic. It’s odd though. Here I am about to be trusted in a Chinook, worth big bucks to the army, and I can’t even legally go into bars back home. I hope I’m decent at it. I was lucky to score a 90 on my Flight Aptitude test, am medically fit, and have my commander’s endorsement. I guess I’m doing better here in the army than I ever did at regular school, so I might have made the right choice.

I’m glad Gregory stepped up. What’s he up to? Oh, and Sarah too… I think of them sometimes and of our summers.

Sorry this letter is brief, but I was always pretty lousy at writing. Keep up your letters though, okay? They always make me smile. I’ll write more about that in a little while. Promise!

Only he hadn’t written much. Once Aaron had been deployed to Afghanistan, he’d written less and less. For a long time, Jesse continued to write to him, weekly, like clockwork, but eventually, when Aaron failed time and time again to write Jesse back, his letters stopped.

THE ROAD broke open a little and sunlight filled his window. All along the road now were gently rolling hills of the softest green. A handful of sheep and a few cows looked at him with big, soulful brown eyes as they wandered closer to the road. Aaron stopped driving a moment to simply watch them. Something deep inside him loosened a little as he looked at the animals and heard nothing but the rustle of the wind and the occasional birdcall.

He’d probably go crazy if he lived out here full time. He liked company all around him, the bustle of the city, the energy of it. He enjoyed meeting people from all over, one of the army’s perks. He couldn’t imagine going day after day alone.

Aaron turned onto another road that had a simple mailbox sitting there in the middle of nowhere that read J. Ross. It was a completely secluded spot, no neighbors anywhere in sight, and all along the unpaved driveway, the trees were lush with leaves, bursting full of vivid reds and oranges and yellows. The sky was inviting, clear and cloudless. Aaron had to admit—

It was so beautiful it almost hurt.

He saw a pretty log cabin nestled at the foothill of a small mountain. Two freshly painted barns stood nearby. He hoped his father had remembered to call Jesse. He’d offered to take care of it, and Aaron hadn’t much cared.

“Oh, well, Jesse. Hope you like surprises.”

Aaron checked himself in the mirror. He thought he looked pretty good. He got out of his dad’s Audi and went to the sturdy wooden door and knocked. Dogs barked wildly, both high yippee-sounding barks and deep low growls, and then the door swung open and a man loomed in front of him.

The words of greeting died on Aaron’s lips.

The man looked completely, late-night, B grade, stalker-movie crazy. Aaron took an instinctive step back.

Wild tangles of blond hair hung down to his shoulders, and his clothes were splattered with what looked like blood. He had an ugly scar that hooked downward from the top of his cheek to where it met the bushiest beard Aaron had ever seen. Only his eyes were familiar, intelligent and fierce, a stormy combination of dark blue with a steely gray ring, staring back at him.


“Hi, Aaron,” he said quietly. He opened the door wider for Aaron to enter.

The Last Guy Breathing #3
Chapter One
STOOD UP. Again.

Henry Clueley glanced around the restaurant, hoping nobody he knew walked in. He’d deliberately picked a place in Mesa, away from Glamour, for some anonymity. Now it looked as if Brody518 from Lots of Fish in the Sea dating service wasn’t going to appear, Henry was doubly glad he’d chosen this spot. Apparently, for him, the ocean was empty, the fish having died of toxins long ago. Fuck it. It wasn’t as if he and Brody had some deep connection; they’d talked online twice, once on the phone. Intellectually Henry knew he shouldn’t take the no-show personally, but his ego wasn’t made up of intellect. With a sigh, Henry rose to his feet, brushing off his disappointment. His love life was bound to improve with time, wasn’t it? It couldn’t possibly get any worse. He quickly paid the bill. Might as well head home, since he had class tomorrow at 8:00 a.m.

Part of the problem was the men in the Phoenix area. Most of them were slimeballs. The rest were taken or straight. Before he moved back to this area, Henry had met decent fellows, and he was convinced if he’d stayed in Washington, he’d be with one of them right now instead of walking to his car alone. On a scale of one to ten, his dating life since moving home had dropped to somewhere around a negative fifteen. Despite being a dedicated accountant, the thought of actually figuring out his recent rejections on a spreadsheet made his stomach cramp. On nights like these, he wondered what it would be like to no longer have to put himself out there, no longer have to try. He wondered what it would be like to simply have somebody.

Henry drove home, thinking Brody518 would call and explain. He resisted the urge to stop at Dairy Queen or McDonald’s. He’d eaten a little at the restaurant and wasn’t hungry, but Henry often ate anyway when stressed. He would have given in a year ago. Tomorrow, despite the late night, he’d be getting up at sunrise to start exercising.

Once he reached his home, Henry neatly laid out his clothes for the morning. He set his alarm, changed into pajamas, scrubbed his face, and brushed his teeth. After checking his computer to confirm that Brody518 had not sent him a personal message, Henry crawled into bed. As usual, he had some trouble sleeping as his brain whirled from one thing to another. Henry lay there in the dark, eyes wide open, curled into a ball.

ALTHOUGH IT was about as far from a NASCAR track as a person could get, Henry blew past the Glamour city limits, putting his foot down on the gas. The red Ferrari was a belated birthday present to himself. He felt sixteen again. Or, more accurately, what he imagined sixteen felt like, since he’d been diligently studying at sixteen and hadn’t owned a car. Speeding like this in Washington had not been an option, with all its traffic, but here on the back roads of Glamour, it was another story.

All his worries were stripped away as the pulse-pounding speed of his car increased. He was… free—free of rules and free of expectations, free for those five minutes he sped down the deserted road. He shouted, a carefree sound, and went faster. Few things in life made him as wildly happy as going fast. He loved the engine’s sound, loved the thrill of the scenery whizzing by him, and he loved the way the road belonged to him.

“Fucking yes!”

Henry’s self-doubts were far away. He and the Ferrari soared.

He came to the dead end, the reason hardly anybody ever went down here, and he spun the wheel, doing a quick one-eighty. As he stood on the brake, a grin lingered on his face. What a beautiful machine, and it was his, all his.

Satisfied, Henry hit the gas pedal again, this time going at a normal pace. He’d gotten in trouble a few times for speeding since he’d been back in Glamour, but Henry couldn’t help it. He loved pushing his new car to its limits. Besides, why save to buy his Ferrari and never see what it could do? He never did it where anybody would get hurt. He wasn’t normally a rule breaker, quite the opposite, but these days he went weak with pleasure at a fast car.

Henry edged closer to the town’s border. The landscape became less remote and more suburban by the second. A wry smile crossed his lips. He’d never planned to be living in Glamour again, but he felt a tug of pride on viewing the small, well-kept town. He would make the best of being here. It was still his community, after all. Turning east, the strong desert light in his eyes, he fumbled for his sunglasses. He always kept them in the same place, but today, for some unknown reason, they weren’t in his console. He looked quickly around and spotted them on the car rug. Reaching down, Henry took his eyes off the road for a split second at most. He took another second to grapple with the sunglasses. When he looked up, it was too late. A stop sign he’d never seen at this intersection before had him slamming on his brakes. Unfortunately he smacked right into the back of the car in front of him. There was a crunching sound as the impact knocked Henry forward and then back, his seatbelt tightening across his chest. He gaped at the sight in front of him: the car’s taillight knocked out. Not only had he stupidly hit a car, he’d gone and hit a Glamour police car.

For a moment Henry blinked, wondering if he were actually dreaming this nightmare, and in reality he was still asleep in his bed, his alarm clock about to go off. He watched the cop open his door and straighten up. Hopefully it would be one of the many cops on the Glamour sheriff’s department Henry knew. It was too bad his good friend Anthony’s dad was no longer the sheriff, but maybe Henry could explain about his dropped sunglasses and—

Oh, hell. Not him. Anybody but him. He was tempted to take off. Henry braced himself for the confrontation.

Deputy Locke approached Henry’s car with a catlike stride. For God’s sake, the man did not even resemble a real cop. There was something predatory about Locke that shouted bad boy and not law enforcer. Henry was convinced he must have conned his way through the police academy, because no cop on earth smirked like that.

Deputy Locke bent and rapped on his window, and Henry rolled it down. His heart gave a funny jump at having Locke’s face near his. The last time he’d been this close to Henry, they’d grabbed each other at the same time, and they’d—

No. Henry swallowed hard. He would not think about that night, not ever again.


“Deputy Locke.”

“Considering how many speeding tickets I’ve given you in the past, you should consider a different vehicle. A nice safe Camry, maybe?” Locke’s eyebrows lifted. He ran his tongue over his plump bottom lip.

God, those lips. They definitely didn’t belong on a cop—a rock star or slutty B-rated actor —but not a cop.

“I wasn’t speeding this time,” Henry said lamely, a guilty flush on his cheeks. Ten minutes ago, of course, he’d been doing exactly that.

“For once.”

“I was driving to spin class when the sun hit my eyes. I honestly looked away all of one second. I was getting my sunglasses so I could see. This street never had a stop sign before. It must be new, right? Anyhow, I reached down and—hey! Are you even listening to me?”

“No. My ears clogged up from boredom about five minutes ago.”

His hands tightened on the steering wheel. God, Henry hated him. No, hate was too mild a word for it. He loathed, detested, abhorred him.

“License, registration, insurance. I’m writing you up.”

“What? You’ve given me more tickets since I moved back to Glamour than I’ve ever had in my life! It’s harassment.” Henry hated how his voice sounded unnaturally whiney. But God, this guy made him get defensive like nobody else.

“You’ll know when I harass you.” Deputy Locke flashed his teeth as if Henry were his tasty prey and he was about to take a bite. “Besides, the evidence speaks for itself. But go on and talk to my boss, Clueley. I know how guys like you operate.”

“Guys like me?”

“Rich and spoiled. Always getting away with everything.”

Henry let out a sharp laugh. “Right.”

If Locke had only known Henry’s father—spoiled did not describe his childhood. Henry never discussed that with anybody, though. A Clueley never aired his dirty laundry. Without another word, Henry gave him his license, insurance, and registration.

“Look at this car,” Locke added, gesturing to Henry’s Ferrari as he finished examining Henry’s information. “It screams entitled desperation.”

Henry flushed, and he cursed his light skin, pale except for his smattering of freckles, which tended to show his emotions too easily. He needed to pull himself together.

“Are you injured?” Locke demanded.

“I’m fine.” Henry reluctantly added, “You?”

“Fine,” he said crisply. “Your speed was low enough that your airbag didn’t deploy. Still, do you feel any whiplash? Back pain?”

“No. I told you.” Somehow the concern was worse than Locke barking orders. “Give me the ticket already.”

“Can’t wait to flee the scene?” Locke slanted him a knowing look. “Or can’t wait to run from me?”

Swallowing, Henry refused to answer.

“Here you go.” Locke held out the ticket, and as Henry took it, their fingers brushed. Locke was too close for comfort. Henry preferred him far away. Quickly snatching his hand back, Henry jammed the ticket into his glove box.

“Have a nice day, Clueley. I’ll be filing this report with my supervisor. Try not to cause too much chaos in the meantime.”

HENRY ENTERED the semidark class and bumped his knee into one of the bikes. He let out a muffled curse, which caused several people to glance his way. Forced to go to the front of the class, he had no choice but to spin with everybody’s eyes on him. Worse, because of the damn ticket and Deputy Locke, Henry hadn’t had any time to fill up his water bottle. Luckily, his friend Gina was next to him and had an extra one.

“Thanks,” Henry whispered to her.

“No problem. You shouldn’t spin without water.”

Henry nodded and, after adjusting the seat, mounted his bike. He wanted his “spot” near the back, away from other people. Although he was no longer that pudgy kid laughed at during PE, Henry had never escaped the feeling.

He’d been working out for over seven months and had lost nearly fifty pounds. He had a new haircut, new contacts, and a new wardrobe. All his friends assured him it would only be a matter of time before he met somebody decent. They swore up and down that Henry was a total catch. Henry wasn’t convinced, and being stood up last night hadn’t helped.

The class was already climbing up the first big hill, and Henry ignored warming up and cranked his dial up a full turn. As sweat soon poured down his face, as his thighs and ass ached from climbing, Henry pictured Locke and all the ways he’d like to torture the irritating son of a bitch.

The instructor gave the command to begin jumps, alternating from sitting to standing up and pedaling, then back to sitting again. Up down, up down, up down—Henry attacked each position with gusto. The tension from his morning built and built inside him before he was finally able to release it in a burst of speed.

As the class finished, Henry ignored the cooldown song and pedaled on.

“What’s with you?” Gina asked, stepping off her bike. The others had left class.

“I lost fifteen minutes of class time.”

“Naw, it’s more than that. You look ready to rip somebody a new a-hole. Tell me.”

Henry sucked in air and pedaled harder. “I got into a fender bender with one of your dad’s rookies.”

“Dad’s retired from the Glamour police force. He and Mom just returned from a cruise.”

“I know, but he hired this one before he left, so I can blame him.”

“You must mean Locke? He’s all right. We hung out at Anthony’s wedding and danced a few times. And have you seen him? He’s not hard to look at! Hey, Henry, you’re blushing.”

“No, I’m not. It’s the spinning.”

“Redheads should never lie. Anyhow, except for dancing with him at my brother’s wedding, I don’t know Locke well.”

“He’s a bastard.”

She laughed. “Tell me how you really feel.”

Henry cranked his resistance way up. He couldn’t understand why Gina and the rest of her family couldn’t see it. Anthony had invited Locke to his wedding to Dean, a night Henry never wanted to think about again, and now Gina was defending him.

“Where did you get in a fender bender with him?”

“At the corner of Winston and Sample Road. Since when is there a stop sign there?” Henry slowed and wiped his face with his towel. “I kind of smacked my car right into his.”

“Oh no, you didn’t!”

“I did. Busted his taillight.” Henry grinned sheepishly. “I hope I at least gave the jerk a scare.”

“Doubt it. From what Dad told me, Locke may be new to Glamour, but he is not a rookie. He was on the Tucson force.”

“Then what’s he doing in Glamour?”

“I dunno. Wanted the quiet life, I guess?”

Henry pictured Deputy Locke’s shit-eating smirk and the hard look in his blue eyes. “I find that difficult to believe.”

“I like him, but you should probably stay away from him.”

“Why?” Henry stopped pedaling.

“He’s on your side of the Kinsey scale. At least he hinted at it during Anthony’s wedding while I was shamelessly flirting with him.”

“And that’s bad?”

“I don’t know….” Gina gave him a considering glance. “He’s got this edgy, dangerous vibe about him. He might be out of your league.”

“Gee, thanks.” Henry grew sick of people thinking he was soft and couldn’t take care of himself.

“Oh, don’t get offended. I’m saying it out of love, okay? Locke might be some fine eye candy, but guys like him only break hearts.”

“Believe me, I have no interest in Deputy Locke. Zero. After today, I plan to stay as far away from him as possible.”

“Good.” Gina picked up her gym bag. “Although… I bet he’s a fabulous kisser with those big pouty lips.”

He is. Goddammit.

“And sweetie, if anybody needs to get laid, it’s you.”

“Why don’t we talk about your love life instead of my nonexistent one?” Henry said.

“Sadly, there’s nothing to tell there, either. But I don’t want a guy right now. Things are finally getting on track since my divorce. I’m about to change careers, and I want to focus on another part of my life. After I leave here, I’m doing some errands and then studying, and that’s the way I want it.” Gina opened the door to the spin room. “You leaving?”

“Not yet. I still have some calories to burn.”

“Look in the mirror, Henry. You’re in great shape.” When Henry didn’t look, Gina sighed. “I wish you could see yourself like the rest of us do. You’re fit and smart and fabulous.”

“Thanks, Gina.” Henry smiled. Despite still wanting to be in Washington, it was good to be back with his old friends. “You’re pretty fabulous too.”

“And, unlike you, I know it.” Gina winked. “Okay, then. See ya later.”


After wiping down his bike, Henry finished his workout with some light weights. He passed by the newbies and the lunkheads, both types Henry avoided at the gym: the newbies because they always asked you a million questions about your routine, and the lunkheads because they wanted to tell you every detail of theirs. Sure, some of the lunkheads had good bodies, and Henry enjoyed looking at their muscles, but they were all about protein shakes and perfect form, and the few times he’d attempted conversation with them had put him off. He didn’t go for the overblown muscled type anyhow. Not to mention the steroids special Henry had watched on TLC recently had convinced him to stay away. Who wanted a huge muscle man with a wide chest and thick legs if the price was a sac of pea-sized balls? No, thank you. Besides, he liked a lean, toned body and a guy who moved with grace and confidence.

Henry took ten-pound weights in his hands and began bicep exercises, curling his arms up and down. He refused to think about Locke or how his body was Henry’s ideal type. He refused to think about his mocking face and sexy mouth.

Or what had happened between them.

AFTER LEAVING the gym, Henry wanted to fix the car as soon as possible, but he hated the idea of worrying his mother for a ride to the repair shop. He found her in the living room, watching television with the sound off. Henry haltingly told her about his car, and sure enough, her reaction was predictably over-the-top.

“You were in an accident? Oh my God!” His mother bolted up, her face paling. This was the way she’d acted his entire life. If Henry had a scraped knee, she’d apply a hundred bandages. Between his father’s judgments and his mother’s anxiety, Henry had spent most of his life sitting paralyzed on the bench while the other kids ran.

“I’m fine, honest. It was a fender bender. If you could follow me to the mechanic’s, I’ll drive us home and that will be that.”

“On the highway? Oh… I don’t know.” She slowly lowered to her recliner. “Your father always drove me on the highway.” She fiddled with the glasses she wore on a chain around her neck.

“You only need to drive on the way down, okay? I can drive us back.”

“I can give you money for a cab. I don’t mind paying for it.”

“A taxi? The repair shop for my Ferrari is not in Glamour. And you should mind paying for it, because that would cost a lot and you need to be on a budget.” Henry counted to ten in his head before adding, “We discussed all that, remember?”

His mother had no concept of such practical things. She’d gone along in a bubble all her life. Just last week, she’d splurged at a fancy spa in Scottsdale with the “girls.” Henry didn’t quite know how to handle having to monitor her movements. It felt all wrong, but it was also reality. His mother needed a caretaker, at least financially. Her health was good, thankfully, but she didn’t seem to know how to function when it came to her finances. What annoyed Henry no end was that she didn’t seem to care. Her eyes would glaze over whenever he tried to discuss it, and she would always shrug and say, “I’m no good at these things.” Henry had committed himself to helping her, no matter what. He approached it with the same organized discipline he focused on his job, but wished his mother would at least try to learn. The past few weeks had been difficult. She refused to even sit down at the computer with him and look.

“Why are you angry?” she asked, lips quivering. “I get nervous on those big roads.”

Henry reined in his frustration. No matter how many times he’d attempted to discuss the real world or finances with her, she simply couldn’t hear him. He loved her, so he’d have to find a way to make it work, although lately he felt more like the parent than the child.

“Never mind. I can take care of it.”

“You’re a good son.”

“Thank you.”

Henry hated how he automatically fell back on politeness when he felt awkward. He wanted to say he was tired of being “the good son.” He’d always done it, earning good grades and being well-behaved, and it hadn’t made him happy or ever been enough for his father.

Even as his mother rushed over to hug him, her face filled with love Henry never doubted, that love felt more like a rope than an embrace. Henry knew she’d tried her best for him, even if all that encouragement was behind his father’s back.

To escape the constant anger directed at him, Henry’s secret comfort had been food. As he’d gained weight, the other kids at school could be pretty brutal, but his father was by far the worst.

“It’s not all bad. Being back in Glamour, I mean?” She gave him a desperate smile. “Count your blessings. You might have left your position at the IRS, but you’re still important. You’re a top financial analyst at a fairly big company. And in the five months you’ve been there, they have already promoted you.”

“Yes, they seem to like me, and I like them. But lately I’ve had questions about how they run things. I’m meeting somebody about it tomorrow.”

“What do you mean, questions?”

Henry averted his eyes. With everything else a mess in his mother’s life, it was too soon to worry her with his troubles at Decker and Thomas. “Nothing. Forget it. It’s only a feeling I have…. Must be too many hours working for the IRS. I’ll go and see about my car.”

WHAT HE needed, Henry decided several hours later, after a white-knuckled taxi ride from hell with a young driver who had a dozen piercings in his nose and lips, as well as suspiciously red-rimmed eyes, was a night on the town. It was Saturday, after all. Granted, this had been a lousy day, but the weekend was only half over.

Henry picked up the phone and asked some of his friends to go to their favorite club, but one by one they turned him down. First he’d called Pete and Bradley, who were usually ready for a fun night. But Bradley had a bad cold, and Pete thought he was getting it too. He’d tried Anthony and Dean next, but they didn’t want to leave Nicki, Dean’s niece, with a babysitter at the last minute.

“I don’t need a babysitter!” Henry heard Nicki protest loudly. “I’m fourteen! I am the babysitter.”

“We know, we know,” Anthony answered. “Henry?”

“Yeah, still here.”

“Sorry about that. It’s not only Nicki, though. Dean is not a club type.”

True enough. Although Henry liked him, Dean Pierce was not exactly known for his social skills.

“How about you and me, then?”


“Okay, another time.” Anthony was glued to his husband’s hip these days. Henry tried not to resent the change in his friendship with Anthony since he’d married, but it wasn’t always easy. Being the only single one left sucked.

“I promise we’ll catch up next time,” Anthony vowed.

Borrowing his mother’s Cadillac for the night, Henry ended up going out alone, and it wasn’t so terrible. He was getting used to looking relaxed by himself. He ordered a martini and watched men dance. He tried his best to appear casual when he noticed a few glances in his direction. But he was probably still a lousy flirt. Unless he was wasted, Henry usually dropped his gaze too quickly or forgot to smile at the other man. Or worse, he would smile, but the smile was so forced it must have looked more constipated than attractive. Despite all his physical changes, Henry would never be suave. Anyhow, what would he do if he did get lucky? Take them home? Because nothing impressed hot guys like bringing them home to your mother’s house. Yep.

He was on a second drink, contemplating going out onto the dance floor alone, when the door of the club opened.

Oh, hell no!

Henry couldn’t possibly be that unlucky, could he? Not twice in one day. But there was no doubt it was Locke who’d come in and was now grinning smugly at the crowd. He didn’t look like a cop either. He looked… fucking fabulous, damn him. How could he look so good all the time? There must be a law against that, right? He had on a blue shirt that matched his eyes and snug pants that fit him in all the right places, and he moved with a lithe stride. His attitude clearly screamed for attention, and he got it, all right. There were other good-looking men all around, but none of them had the confidence, the arrogant swagger, of Deputy Locke. And from the moment Locke entered the room, Henry’s heart clenched, and he had an absurd desire to run and hide.

Locke, meanwhile, hadn’t noticed Henry. He was too busy grabbing a man’s hand and pulling him to the dance floor. Locke swayed back and forth in a sinuous rhythm. Under the bright lights, he almost glowed. There was a hot, fierce look in his eyes, a smile on his full lips.

Henry turned away. He gulped down his martini. That man might have a good time with Locke, but that was all he’d get. Henry should know.

“Another?” the bartender asked.

“Yes, please.” Henry started to smile at the cute bartender and ask his name, but he’d already gone to make the drink. Unable to stop himself, Henry took a quick look behind him. Locke was still dancing. There was a line of sweat down his back, which made his shirt more revealing. He must know exactly how well he danced, how his whole body moved like an invitation.

Deputy Locke.

Using the title helped to keep him at a distance. Christ, Henry needed that distance right now.

Deputy Locke. Deputy Locke. Deputy Locke.

Henry frowned. What the hell was his first name? Everybody he knew referred to him as Locke. Not that Henry cared. He didn’t need to know anything more about Deputy Locke than this: he was trouble with a badge.

The bartender placed a martini in front of him. He paid for the drink and included an overly generous tip. He hoped the bartender would stay and chat, but he merely said a quick “thanks.” Henry opened his mouth to thank him back, but he’d already gone. Oh, well. Trying to flirt with a bartender who was busy was pointless. Henry watched him serve a burly guy a beer. The bartender paused as the other man said something in his ear. He laughed and whispered something back. The burly guy actually blushed. He gripped the bartender’s hand a second. Okay, so the cute bartender was too busy to flirt with Henry. Or maybe he didn’t like redheads? Lots of guys didn’t. Henry touched the top of his head and smoothed back his hair. When he’d lost his pudge, he’d considered asking Gina and her sister Mia, who owned the only salon in Glamour, to dye it blond, but Henry chickened out. He’d gone as far as adding a few highlights and stopped. He could hear the lecture Gina would give him anyhow. “If a guy doesn’t like you for you, Henry, then blah blah blah.”

Henry had heard that all his life, usually from naturally beautiful people. It was bullshit. Sure, once a guy was interested, Henry wanted to be liked for who he was and all, but he had to attract them first. The trouble was his outside had improved, but his dating game was still an amateur’s. The only action he’d gotten lately, and only because he’d been intoxicated with liquid courage, had been with…

Henry snuck another look.

Locke stared back, still dancing, twisting and turning in perfect sync with his partner, but his gaze rested on Henry. Awareness swept through Henry; heat crawled up his neck. He refused to look away, though.

A smile tugged at Locke’s lips. Henry’s pulse raced as he imagined Locke was about to come over. Instead he gave Henry a quick, mocking salute and went back to his dance partner.


Henry left as fast as possible, rushing out of the club. He had to calm down. He was hyperventilating. Damn that guy. If he never saw him again, he would be thrilled. Ecstatic. Euphoric. In fact, if hell opened up and swallowed Locke whole, all the better. Locke would be back where he belonged.

A Guy's Thanksgiving #3.5
Chapter One
MAC DIDN’T really want to go, but he had little choice. He’d made a promise to a friend. White bleached the sky, the few small trees on his block stripped and vulnerable looking. He was late because it was freezing cold in New York that November, and he’d gone back to his apartment for a warmer scarf and his cashmere gloves, and after that his taxi hit traffic on the way to LaGuardia. Just how many people traveled the week before Thanksgiving, anyway?

Too many. Mac’s face soured as the taxi slowed to a crawl. It was another fifteen minutes before the airport came into view.

“Seventy-five dollars, mister.”

“Here you go. Keep the change.”

“Awright. You want help with your bags?”

“No, I’ll manage.”

It was only the one bag, after all. Mac made it a point to travel light and pack smart.

The moment he saw him, Mac was sorry he was late. Jesse was in full-blown panic mode. Jesse’s face was a mottled red, his eyes huge and darting all around, his skin pale. With a soft curse, Mac began to move through the check-in hall, tugging at the buttons on his winter coat and wheeling his carry-on behind him.

“Maybe we shouldn’t go?” Jesse gasped, without any hellos. “I can skip it. And the weather is so cold. What if the plane ices? Let’s forget it. And where were you?” He tapped his watch. “We need at least forty-five minutes to go through security.”

Mac waited until he was done with his litany. He had come to expect this with Jesse when air travel was involved.

“No, we’re going. You’re fine. The plane is fine.” He unbuttoned the rest of his coat. The airport’s heat warmed him. “Do you have a good outfit?” Mac eyed Jesse’s usual wardrobe and shuddered. Jesse favored sloppy T-shirts, and his blond hair was often unkempt, wild. Mac, on the other hand, preferred to always be well-groomed. Together he and Jesse must look like quite the mismatched pair. “You did pack something clean?”

Jesse rolled his eyes. “People will be looking at my art—”

“And you. People will be looking at you. They like to know the artist. You have to sell yourself. We go over this every single time, Jesse.”

“And I hate it every single time. But yes, I packed something nice and clean to impress everybody.”

“Thank God.”



“Fuck you.” But Jesse’s mouth lifted at the corners.

Mac cracked a smile.

TWO WEEKS ago, Jesse had asked Mac to his cabin for dinner. Except for his boyfriend, Aaron, who lived with him, Jesse was a recluse. He rarely left his property. He was also a first-rate sculptor, so Mac, being his agent, assumed Jesse wanted to chat about his latest sales, but that was not the case. Jesse had bigger plans.

He was smart about it. He fed Mac, who rarely cooked, a delicious dinner first. Jesse lulled Mac into contentment with his pasta primavera and a good Merlot. The wine was perfection on Mac’s tongue, with the essence of raspberries and the texture of satin, and Mac was having a second glass by the fireplace when Jesse finally got to his reason for having Mac visit.

“I have a favor to ask.”

“Sure. What is it?”

“You agreed before you even know?”

Mac shrugged. It was no secret he was a sucker for his friends. “What d’you need?”

“You. On an airplane with me.”

“Oh shit. Are we talking about the Southwestern Art Expo? The one in Arizona? And more importantly, are you going to be medicated?”

“Yes, I have my prescription all set. Unfortunately Aaron can’t fly out until a few days later—he’s in the city to test a new game he designed—but I need to be there by the start of the show. You did arrange it for me.”

“I’ll check my calendar. It’s right before Thanksgiving, isn’t it?”

“Yes. And after the show, you get to stay a few extra days. Aaron and I will be going to Glamour. It’s just outside of Phoenix. You can stay there for the holiday and meet our friends Anthony and Dean.”

“I’m sure they’re fabulous—” Mac paused and his mouth thinned. The thought of celebrating Thanksgiving with a bunch of happy gay couples while he was the only single guy didn’t thrill him. “—but I’ll fly back here after the expo.”

“No, you can’t!” Jesse clutched his arm. “You have to stay!”

“Why? I get why you need me for the flight there, but what does it matter if I stay for the holiday?”

“Because….” Jesse’s voice faltered.


Jesse looked at him shyly. “I’m planning to surprise Aaron and propose on Thanksgiving weekend. And I really want my best friend to be with me out there for some moral support. Okay? You may need to pick me up off the floor if Aaron says no.”

“He’ll say yes. Don’t be ridiculous.”

“But you’ll stay?”

Mac sighed. “Fine….” He let the word be dragged out of him. “I’ll stay through Thanksgiving.”

So here he was in an overcrowded airport when he’d much rather be home. Mac tried to keep Jesse busy. They ate sandwiches and bought the latest thrillers from the convenience store. When none of that relaxed Jesse, Mac tried discussing work as Jesse stared anxiously out the window.

“It’ll be fine,” Mac said reassuringly. “A smooth flight.”

“Look.” Jesse held out his buzzing phone.

Aaron had texted a picture. In it, he was making a goofy face and giving two thumbs up.


“Isn’t it? And look at this other one he sent me.” Jesse’s two dogs, Superman and Dolly, held up a sign that read: “You Can Do It! We Believe in You.”

Aaron ended his texts with the message: And I’ll see you in a few more days XXOO.

“God, I’m lucky.” Jesse beamed at his phone and then pressed it to his chest. “I can’t wait for the show to be all done and Aaron to meet me in Glamour at the dinner.”

“Oh, come on. Think of how your work is being displayed at the expo. You’re a top draw there. That means something.”

Jesse made a face. “That means I gotta make small talk with more people. Nope, I’ll be happy it’s over.”

“No part of it interests you? Like, I don’t know… selling your sculptures? Making money?”

“That’s what interests you, Mac.”

“True, and as I always tell you, nothing wrong with profiting from your art. People come to this expo from all over the world. They come to spend.”

“The only part of the show I’m excited for is judging the debut sculptor category. It’ll be cool to see what new talent is up-and-coming.”

“Up-and-coming talent,” Mac scoffed. “There’s no money to be made in them.”

“You took a chance on me when I was up and coming.” Jesse smiled, and Mac ignored him.

They boarded the plane a few minutes later. Mac toed off his Italian loafers, flexed his feet, and began to flip through a magazine while his eyes grew heavy. What seemed only a short time later, he woke abruptly. His ears filled and popped and he realized they were going to land. Next to him, Jesse had a stranglehold on his armrest.

“Please, please, please,” Jesse moaned softly.

Poor Jesse. It must be hard to battle your inner demons. Mac gave him credit for making the flight and not giving in to his anxiety. Jesse was one of the best artists Mac had ever met. Mac was a first-class agent. He could spot talent. Jesse’s ability had blown him away.

His mind started to wander to other great artists he’d met. Only one man was as talented as Jesse, and that was Conor Harvey.

Conor. Jesus. Mac hadn’t thought about him in forever. An unwanted image of Conor came into Mac’s mind. He was so wickedly handsome, with that roguish grin, square jaw, and those sparkling blue eyes that hinted of something just a little naughty. Mac could practically hear the gorgeous Irish lilt of Conor’s voice. He shuddered. Everyone in their art class had wanted Conor. Mac had spent weeks trying to hide how much he wanted him too. He’d never felt that way before. Growing up, he had been a late bloomer. But one look and his raging hormones spiraled out of control. When Conor noticed him and asked him out, Mac could barely believe it. He’d agonized over their first date, praying he wouldn’t look foolish.

Mac gritted his teeth. It must be Jesse and all his love and marriage talk affecting Mac’s brain today. He’d spent the past decade getting over Conor, but today his emotions cornered him.

Thank goodness Conor, wherever he was, couldn’t still be the same sexy youth who had crushed his heart.

Jesse groaned again and Mac reached out to rub his shoulder.

“Remember how scared you were to have Aaron around again? How you’d loved him since you were a snot-nosed kid following him around, and then later you were his pen pal while he was in the Army? That all worked out for you, Jesse. This will be fine too. I have no doubt. Think of good things. Think of Aaron….”

Jesse was pale and tight-lipped, but Mac continued to talk. “Who’re you looking forward to seeing in Arizona the most?”

“Anthony and Dean, of course. Dean’s Aaron’s best friend from the Army. He’s a great guy.”

“Why did Dean leave the Night Stalkers? I know Aaron left because of his heart—”

“His niece, Nicki. Her mother died and Dean needed to go stateside and become her legal guardian.”

“That’s tough.”

Jesse nodded. “But he found Anthony, so it was all meant to be.”

“Such a romantic.” Mac snorted.

“And proud of it.” Jesse grinned. “And you remind me of Locke, the way you said that. You’ll like him and Henry.”

“Who’s Locke?” Mac asked, mostly to keep Jesse’s mind on other things as the plane descended.

“He’s a sheriff in Glamour, and he worked with Anthony’s dad. I met them at Dean and Anthony’s wedding. Don’t know him that well, but Locke seemed like he hated everyone and everything at that reception, especially poor Henry. But then they disappeared at the wedding, and the next thing I heard, they were living together.”

Mac asked a few more questions about Glamour and tried to put happy thoughts in Jesse’s mind. He didn’t stop chatting until the plane touched ground.

“Welcome to Phoenix,” the captain said after they landed. “The local time is one o’clock and the temperature is ninety-two degrees.”

“Jesus,” Mac grumbled as they disembarked from the plane. “This is going to be one hot Thanksgiving.”

Jesse didn’t reply. He was busy mouthing “Thank you” to the powers that be. Then he looked at Mac. “And thank you.”

“Did I help?”


Mac smiled. He was glad for Jesse. Any twinges of loneliness he pushed firmly away. He was Makarand Sharma, who had defied his traditional parents and stormed into the art world at the age of twenty-two full of piss and vinegar. And he’d become a huge success. He didn’t need anything else.

“I can’t wait for Aaron to arrive!” Jesse’s face lit up. “This will be the trip of a lifetime.”

Author Bio:
Skylar M. Cates loves a good romance. She is quite happy to drink some coffee, curl up with a good book, and not move all day. Most days, however, Skylar is chasing after her husband, her kids, and her giant dog, Wasabi. Besides wishing that Mary Poppins could fly down with her umbrella and solve all of Skylar’s household problems with the snap of her fingers, Skylar dreams about spending her days writing, walking along the beach, and making more time for her good friends. On a shoestring budget, Skylar has been lucky enough to have traveled all over in her early years, and she loves meeting all different sorts of folks and hearing about their stories. Although, lately, the laundry room is the farthest place she has visited, Skylar still loves to chat with people from all around the globe.


The Guy from Glamour #1

The Only Guy #2

The Last Guy Breathing #3

A Guy's Thanksgiving #3.5

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